Het Fransche Liefhebbery Geselschap

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Het Fransche Liefhebbery Geselschap ("The French Amateur Company") is one of the more usual names given to the French amateur theatre company which was active in Cape Town between 1803 and 1809.

When doing French plays, the company (like other companies doing French plays before and after) was referred to variously as Het Fransche Liefhebbery Geselschap in Dutch (or in some cases as Een Fransch Gezelschap van Liefhebbers van het Theater, een Fransch Blyspel Gezelschap; die Franse Geselskap or die Franse Amateurs in Afrikaans publications (e.g. Bosman); and in English as the French-Dutch Amateurs, the French Amateur Company, the French Theatre Company or The French Company.

French names included Les Amateurs de l'Isle de France,


This is apparently not one strong, coherent company, but rather a series of alliances between FRrench and Dutch amateurs, and even some visiting professionals, in order to produce French plays in Cape Town.

Founding by Villet (1803-1805)

Originally founded in Cape Town in 1803 by Charles Mathurin Villet, who had gathered a group of French and Dutch actors around him to present selections of both classical and Boulevard fare over the course of the next two years, performing under the French motto "Honi Soit qui Mal y Pense" (though the amateur company apparently never used the motto as name, this came later with C.E. Boniface in his later period).

The company performed in the African Theatre, supported and run by French and Dutch citizens.

See also Charles Mathurin Villet

Middle period under Delémery (1805-1808)

Monsieur Delémery (or Mr Delémery) (possibly a passing professional actor on his way to Mauritius) is mentioned once as a leading performer in 1803, then is not mentioned again till June 1805, when he reappears to have become the leading figure in the company, which on at least occasion (23 December, 1805) was referred to as "Les Amateurs de l'Isle de France", possibly because of the presence of a number of sailors from the ships Atalanta and Napoleon which had stranded in Table Bay and Hout Bay respectively in this time. This one time they apparently performed in a venue referred to as the Théâtre de la Société (lit. "the society theatre")

The company appears to have amalgamated with another group of French theatre amateurs, and Delémery became the leading force. They also began to play in Dutch as well, and announcements appear in Dutch and English once the British soldiers had returned to the Cape. In addition they appear to have acquired the use of a warehouse as theatre venue for a while, referred to as Fransche Liefhebbery Theatre in a Dutch advert cited by Bosman (1928: p. 92).

Later the names of Mr Nelson and Mr Martin are also given as directors. This particular French company declined after 1806 and announced its end by November 1808.

See also Monsieur Delémery

Brief revival under Boniface (1808-9)

There was a brief revival in 1808-1809, when a group of amateur and professional players, possibly remnants of Villet's original company, with the young Charles Etienne Boniface very prominent, and Villet still around, referred to as the "French Theatrical Company" or "French Theatre Company" , where they produced a number of French works, including Les Plaideurs (Racine), Le Petit Matelot, ou Le Mariage Impromptu (Pigault Lebrun),

By the end of 1809 this group appears to have disappeared from the scene, with only a few French performances by semi-professional companies led by François Agron, Mr Bourcherville, L. Meurant and J. Riaux), and including some youth theatre by their ballet pupils, to follow in 1810-11. By then Dutch theatre (see Tot Nut en Vermaak for example) and English theatre had again taken over in Cape Town.

Boniface would only resurface in theatre in the 1820s with his trilingual Dutch/French/English company, known by its motto Honi Soit qui Mal y Pense.

(For other, independent, French productions in this period see the entries on François Agron, Mr Bourcherville, L. Meurant and J. Riaux).


Playing under one of the various names listed above, Het Fransche Liefhebbery Geselschap performed a large number of French plays in the original language (and the occasional Dutch version), including:

In 1803: Les Prisonniers de Guerre (Rousseau), Arlequin Afficheur (Desfontaines and Barré), Les Deux Jumeaux de Bergame (De Florian), La Revanche Forcée (Jacques Marie Deschamps), Toinon et Toinette (Desboulmiers), Le Tableau Parlant (Anseaume), Le Tonnelier (Audinot), Les Jardiniers (Davesne), Pygmalion (Rousseau), Le Directeur de Comedie (Anon/Barré, Radet and Desfontaines??), Le Fou Raisonnable, ou L'Anglais (Patrat) and Les Deux Chasseurs et La Laitière (Anseaume),

In 1804: Annette et Lubin (Favart), Le Tonnelier (Audinot), Barnabas (Holberg) and Le Barbier de Seville (Beaumarchais)

In 1805: Les Battus Paient l'Amende (Dorvigny), Les Soldiers Mordorés, ou La Cordonnière Allemande (Marquis de Ferrières), Arlequin Protégé par Belphégor (Anon.), Eraste, ou L'Enfant Proscrit de Son Père (Anon.), Le Paysan, Soldat Malgré Lui(Anon.), La Clochette (Anseaume), La Meunière De Gentilly (Lemonnier), Le Mariage Forcé (Molière), Le Soldat Magicien (Anseaume) and On ne s'Avise de Tout (Sedaine and Monsigny),

In 1806: Pygmalion (Rousseau), Men Doet Wat Men Kan, Niet Wat Men Wil (Dorvigny, tr. Ogelwight),

in 1807: La Revanche Forcée (Jacques Marie Deschamps), De l'Astronomanie (Brousse-Desfaucherets?), L'Enragé (Boniface),

In 1808: De Snyder en Zyn Zoon (Dutch version of a German play by Fusz), De Dragonder te Thionville (from the French play by Dumaniant), Alexis, ou l'Erreur d'un bon Père (Vivetières), Le Petit Matelot, ou Le Mariage Impromptu (Le Brun), Le Jour du Fête, ou Le Pouvoir de la Bienfaisance (Anon),

In 1809: Les Deux Frères, ou La Réconciliation (Kotzebue), Le Petit Matelot, ou Le Mariage Impromptu (Le Brun), Les Plaideurs (Racine), Le Derviche (De Saint-Foix), Le Tambour Nocturne, ou Le Mari Devin (Destouches), Les Jumeaux de Bergame (Florian), Le Jeu de l’Amour et du Hasard (Pierre de Marivaux), Les Deux Avares (De Quingey and Grétry), La Paysanne Curieuse (Framery), Le Projet Manque (Desfontaines, Barré and Radet), Les Troubadours (Floquet), Robert, Chef de Brigands (Schiller/Lamartélière) Le Tonnelier (Audinot), Eopipore, ou La Resurrection et Le Marriage de Biribi (Barago/Boniface), Oromidas, ou Le Balêt de Balais (Anon).


F.C.L. Bosman, 1928. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel I: 1652-1855. Pretoria: J.H. de Bussy. [1]: pp. 83-92; 116-7; 174;

Du Toit, 1988

Fletcher, 1994;

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